"We all grew up in the same small town of Mount Vernon [in Washington state]," explains vocalist and multi-instrumental frontwoman Miranda Zickler. "But we first started talking at a diner in Union Square, when we were living in New York City. I had moved to New York in 2009, and we ran into each other a few days before I was getting ready to move back home in 2012. We'd all done theater and had mutual friends, and we just recognized each other from Facebook. I knew that they were there, because we ran in the same circles, but we'd never spent any time together."
Once the Pacific Northwesterners, who are all in their mid- to late twenties, got to know each other, they clicked and before long found themselves back home, where they formed Kuinka.
"Zach [Hamer] moved back home after I did, and we started playing together, and it went really well," says Zickler, who is currently a resident of Seattle. "So it went on from there. When his brother Nathan came back from college in 2013, we decided to focus all our energy on the band, and we realized that we had a future at it. Eventually, Jillian [Walker] joined us on cello and it all jelled."
As for their group's name, Kuinka means "how" in Finnish. The quirky outfit, which has been known to use items including old-school typewriters and brass service bells to forge its sound, felt it needed to go beyond the English language to coin something new and different.
"We wanted to find a unique name," Zickler says. "And so we decided to try something in Finnish. One of my best friends is from Finland, so I'm familiar with the culture and the language. We browsed through a bunch of words and found 'kuinka.' It means 'how,' as in 'How are we going to come up with a unique band name?'"
The quirky quartet doesn't have to work hard to stand out. One listen to the music generated by these former theater students reveals a fresh take on modern folk and pop. Zickler credits some of the band's sound to its members' background on the dramatic stage, though music has become their preferred medium.
"The way we perform and the way we write definitely has some overlap with our theater background," she says. "I did some Broadway auditioning in New York as well as some reading for parts, but what I wound up doing most of was busking in the subway. I played my acoustic guitar for commuters and made decent money at it. It wasn't a bad supplement for my income. It's expensive out there."
Kuinka, which is currently driving through the West, will play at the Larimer Lounge, where it also performed earlier in the summer as part of a longer national tour. Zickler says the group currently has four releases to its name, including two full-length CDs and two EPs. The band's most recent effort is a single titled "Wet Cement."
"It's a funkier, pop-oriented breakup song that uses the metaphor of gentrification," Zickler explains. "It imagines the end of a relationship as the repaving of a city block. We're working on a lot of new music right now. We all do solo writing and then take it to the group as a whole and collaborate to finish it off. We have really different tastes. We're fans of a lot of new music as well as stuff like Fleetwood Mac, Motown and the Velvet Underground."
Kuinka, with Mirrors & Lights and Blake Brown, 7 p.m. Thursday, September 27, Larimer Lounge $10-$12; 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 30, Gold Hill Inn, $10.